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Activities report 2013

Page history last edited by Pier Andrea Pirani 9 years, 9 months ago

 

 

 

 

Dgroups Activities Report 2013

 

What is Dgroups?

Dgroups is a partnership of leading international development organisations with a shared vision to promote international development through dialogue.

 

What Dgroups can offer?

Individuals and organisations working in international development need reliable, easy-to-use, accessible online communication tools in order to interact and share experience and expertise. The Dgroups platform supports email-based and online interaction of groups, communities and networks of all sizes. By using email as the core of its operations, the Dgroups platform is especially well-suited to low bandwidth users in the South, making it easier for their voices to be heard. The Dgroups platform is very easy to use, non-commercial, cost-effective, and respectful of data privacy. With Dgroups you can:

 

  • Create a new discussion group in less than three minutes

  • Create an unlimited number of groups

  • Create small or large, public or private groups

  • Provide free hosting for small organisations

  • Maintain an automatic online archive of discussions

 

Who runs Dgroups?

Dgroups is financially supported and managed by the Dgroups Foundation, a non-profit foundation owned by the Dgroups Partners. The Partners are committed to supporting Dgroups as a global public good of online groups, networks and communities.

 

How to join Dgroups?

We welcome requests from organisations working for international development, human rights and global justice who would like to join the Dgroups Partnership. We ask a modest financial contribution which pays towards the costs of supporting the platform and administering the Partnership. Please see our website for details.

 

In 2009, the Dgroups Foundation was established in the Netherlands as a non-profit foundation.

Dgroups is currently used by 200,000 development workers worldwide with some 2100 online groups.  The Foundation is committed to make Dgroups accessible and affordable to all development organisations.

 

In August 2013, Dgroups counts 2.297 communities, with around 167.691 registered users. It delivers around 400.000 email messages each day. The corresponding figures in March 2014 were: 2,415 communities, with 191,318 registered users, delivering around 460,000 email messages each day.


 

Areas of work

The Dgroups Foundation board fulfilled its responsibilities across seven work areas:



Platform improvement

 

What we set out to achieve in 2013

  1. We shall continue to improve the platform through a user-driven process.

  2. We shall ensure that all requests and ideas for functionality improvements raised through the [redesign] discussion group are monitored and made freely available to all users. We shall assess the feasibility (or otherwise) and provide progress updates on each request.

  3. We shall explore how Dgroups can take advantage of mobile opportunities, through apps and a mobile interface of Dgroups as well as email-SMS integration.

Progress

  1. Dgroups continues to be hosted, maintained and developed by WA-Research, in Switzerland, which is also providing first line support to creators and current Dgroups Partners. We are grateful to Board member Hapee de Groot, who has been acting as board representative in regular contact with WA-Research throughout the year.As discussed at the Annual Partners Meeting in November 2012, we have revised our approach for functionality improvement. The new approach decentralises all identification and discussion of functionality improvements to the [redesign] Dgroups, which is open for anyone to join. We are grateful to board member Kristin Kolshus for implementing this. Kristin maintains an updated spreadsheet with pending and resolved issues here: https://dgroups.org/dgroups/teg/redesign/library. The spreadsheet provides columns with the following headings: - Date; Raised by; Issue; Details; Comment from WA-Research; Feasible?; Cost?; Related to/Next step; Priority; Resolved?; Updates. Currently there are about 20 issues under discussion, and these may be grouped as follows:

    1. Viewing the web archive

      1. “Make public" function not working? (is not saved)

      2. Messages in a thread are not always filed together on the web archive

      3. Cannot change subject of new submission into new discussion thread

      4. Incorrect building of strings

      5. Include a link to the online message thread in the message when an email goes out

      6. Search results: could these be tailored?
         

    2. Delivery of email messages formatting and content:

      1. Retention of email formatting

      2. Email formatting of emails with either scrunching or additional lines.

      3. Links to attachments in emails do not always work

      4. Problems with “stripped” attachments

      5. "Quoted message removed"

    3. Moderation

      1. Dashboard: option to moderate multiple groups simultaneously

      2. Moderation bug when moderating online: Ability to approve multiple messages simultaneously without error message

      3. Ability to approve multiple messages simultaneously without error message

      4. Provide option for moderator to allow direct distribution of his/her own contributions

    4. Visual design

      1. Additional banner options (resolved in March 2014)

    5. Monitoring and evaluation

      1.  Library; statistics

    6.  Terminology

      1.  Changing term "Leader" to "Administrator".

      2.  Dgroups auto-reply: suggest amendment to 'moderation queue'

 

Examples of issues resolved, added or much improved: Edit welcome mail; Colour theme selection; Calendar date sorting; Subject encoding. Pending with Dgroup members is the suggestion to improve the help guide.

 

There have been fewer problems and frustrations reported with the use of Dgroups during 2013 than previously.   

 

The three top priority issues that remain unresolved to date are:

  1. Dgroup admin must approve his/her own contributions (this functionality was introduced by request, in order to prevent accidental inappropriate messages sent by moderators, particularly for large groups; however, many moderators, especially those of smaller groups, would prefer their own contributions to be distributed directly).

  2. Option to make discussions public (without requirement for log-in).

  3. Messages in a thread are not always filed together on the web archive.

  4. WA-Research has been working during 2013 to make the web pages usable on mobile devices and the current version of the platform is already optimised for tablets. The vast majority of Dgroups users, including many administrators, use email for actions relating to Dgroups, rather than the web interface.


 

Service reliability

What we set out to achieve in 2013

  1. We shall maintain service reliability at or very near to 100%.

  2. We shall increase our disaster preparedness, so that normal service is maintained in the event of disaster (eg technical breakdown, illness, injury).

Progress

  1. As in previous years, WA-Research has provided a reliable operational service also throughout 2013. Indeed, in 2013 there were no interruptions to service in the entire calendar year. In the first half of the year, there were occasional minor delays in distribution of approved messages, associated with on-line maintenance. These delays were announced in advance by WA-Research via Twitter. There were no reported delays or other problems in the second part of the year.

  2. The Board has liaised with WA-Research to discuss prevention and mitigation of technical and personal incapacity. In the event of technical disaster, such as fire or server breakdown, we are assured that service would resume within 24 hours. In the event of personal incapacity, such as illness or accident to Damir Simunic, we understand there is currently no backup person who would be able to deputise for Damir. WA-Research is looking to identify and engage a backup person.


 

Users’ support for optimum use of the platform

What we set out to achieve in 2013

  1. We shall introduce a peer support or training programme on how to establish, maintain and moderate online communities.

  2. We shall continue to organize regular online peer exchange sessions (1 each quarter) on “How to make the most of Dgroups” where Dgroups partners and administrators present their experience.

  3. We shall publish regular blog posts, presentations and recordings on the Dgroups Foundation website.

Progress

  1. The Board has discussed training tools with the European Centre for Development and Policy Management, which is already planning a series of training materials on CoPS, and an Agreement for Performance of Work is being finalised.

  2. We held two online peer exchange sessions in 2013:

    • The Dgroups Online Peer Exchange on 16 April 2013 included presentations from two Dgroups partner organizations, with an interesting debate following the presentation by Kristin Kolshus and Julien Custot from FAO and Carmen Eckter and Carsten Schulz from SDC. A full report, including presentations and recordings, is available here

    • The Dgroups Online Peer Exchange on Monday 15 July 2013 had a focus on email and online forums for health and development professionals, and was organised in collaboration with the Knowledge Gateway, which uses the same technology as Dgroups. A full report, including presentations and recordings, is available here.

  3. We posted 8 blog posts, and provided access to presentations and recordings from the Peer Exchange sessions.


 

Engagement with current partners

What we set out to achieve in 2013

  1. We shall encourage members to make full use of their membership, including the possibility to create Dgroups for affiliated organizations.

  2. We shall maintain regular communications with all our Partners, through 1-to-1 calls (at least 2 times per year).

Progress

  1. This benefit has been highlighted on the Dgroups.info website and new Dgroups leaflet.  We have successfully facilitated requests by small organisations (less than 500,000 Euros turnover) to affiliate with existing Dgroups members.

  2. We have maintained one-to-one communications with Dgroups Partners during the year.


 

Marketing and outreach

What we set out to achieve in 2013

  1. We shall continue to develop and improve the Dgroups Foundation website.

  2. We shall recruit new paying members – We aim to have 40 members by 2015.

  3. We shall produce publicity material – Leaflet downloadable from website, in different languages.

Progress

  1. The Dgroups Foundation website (dgroups.info) now includes:

    • Improved Partners landing page with a world map and logos of Dgroups Partners

    • Improved text and structure of About page and how to join Dgroups

    • publication of Dgroups Board work plan 2013

    • regular updates on blog, including presentations and recordings of Peer Exchange sessions

    • Dgroups statistics (number of groups, number of users etc).

  2. During 2013 we had communication and meetings with a small number of potential new members. However, none of these have yet resulted in new Partners. One Partner (Helvetas) discontinued their membership at the end of the year. We started 2014 with 16 Partners.

  3. We have produced a leaflet, which is downloadable from the website.The Board has registered with Translators Without Borders with a view to translating the leaflet into different languages.

 

The Dgroups Partnership has experienced contraction over the last 3 years, and many factors are responsible for this. Some of these factors (such as reducing budgets available to partner organisations, competition from free or lower-cost commercial tools, and internal development of intranet tools) are outside the control of the Dgroups Foundation, but others are within our control and can be progressively addressed.

 

The most important factor that we can strengthen is Marketing and Outreach. During 2013 we improved the www.dgroups.info website and produced a promotional leaflet. In December 2013, new Board member Sarah Cummings agreed to become Dgroups Marketing Coordinator, working in liaison with Euforic Services and the Board to ensure that we have a major increase in our marketing throughout 2014.

 

The Dgroups Partners, individually and collectively, provide a huge potential for publicity and outreach of Dgroups. Each Partner could include the Dgroups logo on all Partners websites, and promote Dgroups at meetings and conferences, through distribution of leaflets and presentation of slide(s), and 30-second “microphone pitch”. The Board will provide support for this as needed. In the second half of 2013, Sarah Cummings joined the board and is now acting as lead person for Marketing and outreach.


 

Governance and administration

What we set out to achieve in 2013

  1. We shall amend the Dgroups Statutes to allow expansion of the Board as needed, and more flexibility.

  2. We shall improve Board representation – Ideally, equal representations for gender and geographical location of Board members.

 

 

Progress

  1. The Dgroups Statutes have been amended to allow expansion of the Board as needed, up to a maximum of 9 persons.

  2. The Board has improved gender balance (3M & 2F) as compared with the beginning of the year (4M & 1F). The Board does not have any representation from low and middle income countries. The Board acts on behalf of the Dgroups Partners, which are mostly based in high-income countries.

 

In the course of 2013, the Board of the Dgroups Foundation met 4 times online. The minutes of the Board meetings are all available on the Dgroups members page of the Dgroups wiki.

 

Also in 2012, Euforic Services collaborated with the Dgroups Foundation and its Board in the areas of management support; administration; communications and member relations.

 

Giacomo Rambaldi stepped down from the Board in February 2013 due to work commitments. He had contributed substantially during his time as a Board member. In June 2013, the Board welcomed Sarah Cummings (independent) as a new Board member. Her nomination improves the gender balance on the Board and brings a skill set different and complementary to the rest of the current Board members.

 

At the end of 2013, the board comprises 5 members: Neil Pakenham Walsh, representing INASP, and Rob Witte (ICCO) have continued as Chairman and Secretary/Treasurer, respectively; Kristin Kolshus (FAO), Hapee de Groot (Hivos), and Sarah Cummings (independent).

 

In terms of communications with existing Dgroups partners, the Dgroups wiki has been maintained as a reference and archive for all documents and procedures related to the life of the Dgroups Foundation. All minutes of Board meetings, as well as documents and reports relevant for the administration of the Dgroups Foundation are available, archived and organised onto the wiki. During the year, the dg-partners list had also been used to inform Dgroups partners of new developments on the platform and partnership, as well as collect feedback, ideas and suggestions.


 

Monitoring and evaluation

 

Use of the Dgroups platform

WA-Research provides statistics on groups usage and membership for individual groups. In August we presented these data through a live, interactive visualization using Tableau Public.

 

In March 2014, Dgroups counts 2,415 communities, with around 191,318 registered users. It delivers around 460,000 email messages each day.

 

Many of these groups were designed for a specific time-bound purpose and have fulfilled their function. The platform currently hosts 723 active groups,  - where ‘active’ is considered a group that has recorded at least one message in the previous 365 days period – equivalent to almost 40 active groups for each Full Dgroups Partner.

 

WA-Research is working to make stats available at individual group level for groups admin to be able to directly monitor the usage of their communities.

 

IDS Open Linked Data proposal

The Dgroups Foundation was approached in January 2013 by Adrian Bannister of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS, UK) regarding possible involvement with a new IDS Open Data initiative that would raise the visibility of content from different platforms, including Dgroups and IDS Eldis communities. “IDS Knowledge Services (IDS KS) are keen to collaborate with strategic partners, including Dgroups, to discuss, scope out and fundraise to develop structures, tools, standards and processes that through linking and opening data, would enhance the contribution our social content makes in progress towards international development goals.”

 

The board forwarded the details to the DG Partners as a matter for consideration by individual Partners (each Partner and each Dgroup should have the option to opt out) as well as for Dgroups as a whole.

 

We encouraged IDS to contact individual Partners to explain the proposal and to get their feedback, and to keep the board informed of their findings. IDS is also liaising with our technical developer, WA-Research, who would clearly have a central role in this if it were to go ahead. We await updates from IDS.


 

Note: The financial report is provided separately at this link (accessible for Dgroups members with login)


 

Annex 1 - List of Dgroups Partners at 31 December 2013

  1. Alfa Redi*

  2. CIDSE

  3. Department for International Development (DFID), UK

  4. ECDPM*

  5. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

  6. Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA)

  7. Helvetas**

  8. Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (Hivos)

  9. ICCO

  10. International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD)

  11. International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP)

  12. Natural Resources Institute (NRI)

  13. Royal Tropical Institute (KIT)**

  14. RWSN – Rural Water Supply Network

  15. SAP International*

  16. SDC

  17. Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)

  18. UNECA

 

* membership covered by in kind contribution (to be reviewed in 2014)

 

** discontinued membership end-December 2013

 

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